You might have a few complaints about your job, but has it ever made you want to end your life? Not long ago, horror stories emerged of workers at Amazon warehouses being seriously overworked and having to urinate in bottles to meet their quotas. While Amazon tried to brush these off as isolated incidents, it’s becoming more difficult for them to deny that there is a serious problem with their working environment – and it’s driving people to take their own lives.
A recent investigation revealed that emergency services were called on at least 189 occasions for attempts at suicide, suicidal thoughts, and other types of mental health episodes at Amazon warehouses during a five-year period. The incidents occurred at 46 different Amazon warehouses across 17 states. The accounts are troubling, with 911 calls detailing people trying to cut and kill themselves.
Workers have told the press that breakdowns are a common occurrence at warehouses. Investigative journalist James Bloodworth, who worked undercover at a U.K. Amazon warehouse, told Business Insider that the atmosphere was how he imagined prison must feel. Dozens of workers interviewed by the publication reported having to work long shifts that caused physical pain.
He reported that some of the 700,000-square-foot facility’s 1200 workers had to take a 10-minute, quarter-mile trek to the two toilets situated on the ground floor. A fear of being reprimanded for wasting time on the journey to the restroom prompted many of them to urinate in bottles and garbage cans. He also said workers only get 15 to 20 minutes for lunch in 10.5-hour work days.
Last year, Amazon raised the minimum wage it offers workers to $15 per hour following pressure from lawmakers and labor groups. However, the conditions at its warehouses have yet to improve, according to those who work there.
One 41-year-old worker told The Daily Beast that the “crack the whip” atmosphere there left him suicidal, telling a security guard he was going to drive his car off a cliff after months of at-work misery. He said he ended up on a 72-hour hold in a psych ward over the issues caused by the working environment. A man who worked at the same facility did take his life after working 280 hours in five weeks.
In one emergency call that has come to light, a worker called to say an employee was trying to leave the building to kill herself and asked for medical help. Another employee called for help after a worker was found with a suicide note to her children. On another occasion, an Amazon worker asked for EMS to come for a suicidal employee who attempted to cut himself several times with a box cutter at work.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the horrific working conditions at Amazon. In 2011, reports emerged that the company hired ambulance crews to wait outside on hot days for workers who experienced problems related to the heat as they tried to keep up with demanding production requirements. A local ER doctor who had treated some employees for heat stress actually reported it as an “unsafe environment” to OSHA, who stepped in and gave them corrective steps.
A year later, the Seattle Times reported that the underpaid, overworked employees at a warehouse in Campbellsville said they were pressured to manage their injuries in ways that wouldn’t trigger an OSHA report – for example, by claiming to medical personnel that their workplace injuries were actually due to pre-existing conditions. One worker said certain doctors refused to work with them because their managers would call them and argue with them.
The next time you’re marveling at how quickly and cheaply Amazon can deliver goods to your door, keep in mind how much all that “efficiency” is costing the people who work there and their loved ones.
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